Road to Kentucky Derby Goes Through Gotham at Aqueduct

Michael DempseyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2014

In this photo provided by the New York Racing Association, Gemologist, ridden by Javier Castellano, wins the Wood Memorial horse race over Alpha, ridden by Ramon A. Dominguez, at Aqueduct racetrack, Saturday, April 7, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/New York Racing Association)
Anonymous/Associated Press

The Road to the Kentucky Derby makes a stop in the Big Apple on Saturday, as a field of 11 will hit Aqueduct in the $500,000 Gotham (G3), with the winner earning 50 points, as the race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series of races. 

The top four finishers earn 50-20-10-5 points toward stamping a ticket to the Run for the Roses. The current leader in points is Risen Star (G2) winner Intense Holiday with 53 points.

Renewing their rivalry will be Samraat and Uncle Sigh, the one-two finishers of the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct on Feb. 1. The Rick Violette Samraat prevailed by a length over the Gary C. Contessa-trained Uncle Sigh.

The Gotham serves as a prep for the marquee event for three-year-olds in New York. The $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) will be contested on April 5.

Harpoon (10-1) is one of three in the race sent out by the Todd Pletcher barn. It is not too often we see the barn send out three runners in a graded stake, and they are all long shots. Harpoon is 10-1 on the morning line, with Monopolize and Master Lightning each listed at 20-1. 

Harpoon took four tries to break his maiden, but he did run into Cairo Prince in his second start, running second and beaten two-and-three-quarter lengths by one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites at 8-1. Cairo Prince won the Holy Bull (G2) in his last outing.

In his stakes debut, Harpoon was beaten just a nose at 9-5 in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, coming in with a good four-wide run. The colt has put in a couple of quick works since his last outing at Palm Meadows, and this guy has a nice pedigree.

The $500,000 Keeneland purchase is by Tapit out of a Star de Naskra mare that has dropped five other winners, including graded stakes winners Cuvee ($402,044) and Will He Shine ($346,041). There is decent value if the colt goes off near his 10-1 morning line. Pletcher won this race in 2007 with Cowtown Cat and Stay Thirsty in 2011.

Trainer Todd Pletcher saddles three runners in the Gotham.
Trainer Todd Pletcher saddles three runners in the Gotham.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Samraat (5-2) is undefeated in four starts, after trouncing his opponents in his first three starts, he got a stern test from Uncle Sigh—last out in the Withers (G3), and was up to it, winning by a length after battling in the stretch. The colt's first three starts were against New York breeds, including a sixteen-and-three-quarters length victory in the Damon Runyon in his stakes debut on Dec. 18, which was his first start going two turns.

He owns a solid pace profile throughout and looks as if he is going to get a good trip, sitting just off what is likely going to be a sharp pace. His entry mate, Noble Cornerstone, failed to fire in the Sam F. Davis (G3) as the 8-5 betting favorite, getting off poorly and never threatening. Two back in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park, he was a game second, coming in with a good late rally to just miss. The blinkers were back on, and he was better than he showed in his last start.

In Trouble (6-1) makes his three-year-old debut for the Tony Dutrow barn. The colt won both of his starts as a juvenile, a sharp maiden win in his debut, followed by winning the Futurity (G2) at Belmont Park on Sept. 29 in his first start against winners.

The colt did not beat a real tough group in that outing but still appears to have plenty of upside. The barn hits at a 17-percent clip with runners coming back off a 61-180 day layoff. Dutrow is not one to place runners where they do not belong, so it seems likely this guy is ready for his first test around two turns.

Uncle Sigh (3-1) set the early fractions and finished gamely while unable to hold off Samraat late, settling for the runner-up spot in the Withers. The colt was making his first start against winners, after an impressive fourteen-and-a-half length win against state-bred maiden special weight company in his second career start.

The colt owns solid early and mid-pace numbers but could end up getting caught in a fast duel. He picked up a new jockey in Corey Nakatani, and the colt has a solid pedigree, a half to stakes winners Percussion ($467,194) and Slew by Slew ($236,634).

Completing the field are Financial Mogul (10-1), Deceived (15-1), Classic Giacnroll (20-1) and Extrasexyhippzster (4-1). The race has a 4:17 eastern post time and will be broadcast live on TVG and HRTV. 

Selections: Harpoon – Samraat – In Trouble – Uncle Sigh


Morning line odds from the New York Racing Association.  

Statistics from The Daily Racing Form.

Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport